Pollen for All! And some natural remedies.

If you are like me, you love the colors of spring but recognize that comes with the cost of dealing with physical symptoms and allergies from the pollen in the air. I live in North Carolina and the pollen here is serious business! I thought I knew pollen, but it turns out that Chapel Hill, NC is one of the worst places in the U.S. for pollen because we have winter and due to the warmth and humid climate so many gorgeous plants, trees, and flowers bloom! And we have lots of pine trees!

My fist spring in NC I literally spent indoors whenever possible. This was good for my allergies, but not good for my mind or soul. I have learned through trial and error what works best for me. I tend to take the natural route and for me I have found a few simple solutions that work!

  1. I pay attention to my foods to avoid foods that are high in histamine during this time. Here is a list: https://www.histamineintolerance.org.uk/about/the-food-diary/the-food-list/ There is no need to avoid these all year, just during allergy seasons.

  2. I make ginger and honey to fight inflammation - See my method here: https://www.ecothriver.com/blog/2016/3/24/spring-and-pollen-is-in-the-air-a-natural-approach-to-allergies-that-works

  3. I take this homeopathic remedy: https://amzn.to/2WX4k53 It is $26 but you don’t take it daily. After 3 days, I can take a break and just take 1/week. (check with a doctor if needed!)

  4. Shower before bed and change clothes after being outside. Pollen stays in our hair and this is an easy way to eliminate breathing in pollen through the night.

  5. Use a Netti Pot for an effective way to clear your nasal passage. https://amzn.to/2IljPQk

  6. Another product I use is Gaia Turmeric Allergy https://amzn.to/2IgtWWx

  7. Take off shoes in your house to keep your floors free of pollen. Wipe off your dogs paws when they enter the house.

  8. Keep windows closed on high pollen days or just open an inch for some fresh air (if it’s not windy out!)

  9. Look at the beauty in the Spring Colors and it may help realize that it’s is just a temporary downside to Spring growth and the beautiful trees and flowers! Chapel Hill has one of the prettiest spring seasons (I may be a bit biased :)

  10. Remember this is temporary and pollen season does not last forever! Last resort is use a mask! This is my go to because it is machine washable: https://amzn.to/2KnRVpv

The evidence of pollen is everywhere

The evidence of pollen is everywhere

My why: This is the reason I am an educator and consultant!

Here I am 1 year post finishing chemo. This smiling happy mom is enjoying time with her family but is also living in fear instead of through empowerment!

Here I am 1 year post finishing chemo. This smiling happy mom is enjoying time with her family but is also living in fear instead of through empowerment!

Why do I consult and help women green their homes and lifestyle? This is my why: 9 Years ago I was diagnosed with breast cancer as a young mom. I had surgery, chemo, more surgery, and learned I carry a BRCA mutation. I was blindsided by cancer, scared, tired, anxious, unwell physically and emotionally, overwhelmed and trying to heal from surgery and chemo. I was working to be the best mother and wife that I could be, while trying to restore my health, and did I say I was SCARED and OVERWHELMED?

When I finished chemo my children were 1 year and 3 years old. My mother died of metastatic breast cancer 4 years after her diagnosis and I wanted to learn and do whatever I could to FEEL BETTER, LIVE LONGER, LIVE HEALTHIER, and to TAKE BACK THE CONTROL that cancer took from me. I thought I had 4 years and I made a choice to do whatever I could to at least have those 4 years!

Empowered at the Carrboro Farmer’s Market. I am lucky to have the best in the state.

Empowered at the Carrboro Farmer’s Market. I am lucky to have the best in the state.

I remember asking my oncologists what I could do to reduce my risk of recurrence (I was lucky and diagnosed at stage 2b and not metastatic.) Their responses were “everything in moderation”. I remember thinking, '“WHAT THE HECK DOES THAT MEAN?” I would ask specific questions and this was 9 years ago so even the studies on exercise weren’t out yet. I wanted answers, I wanted someone to tell me what I could do, what I could control. I knew well enough that I couldn’t eliminate my risks of getting cancer again, from being diagnosed metastatic, or from a secondary cancer. What I did want was to FEEL HEALTHIER, FIGHT SIDE EFFECTS, and to do what I could to REDUCE MY RISK.

This is the book where I first learned that Food can be medicine and could help me with side effects and to heal.

This is the book where I first learned that Food can be medicine and could help me with side effects and to heal.

I started researching and came across a book written by Rebecca Katz, ‘The Cancer Fighting Kitchen.’ Now I was on to something! Steps I could take to at least limit my chemo side effects! I read about certain foods that could help with nausea, building back my cells, nourishment for my sick body! That book became by bible and my stepping stone. I started taking local classes on food and nutrition and my father in law had a generous friend that sent a nutritionist to my house that was helpful with some recipes and quick swap in foods I could purchase when short on time to cook. The more nutritious food I ate the more my energy levels increased and I was somewhat hooked, but…

DID I MENTION I WAS SICK, AND TIRED with two young children? Cooking new foods and learning recipes was exhausting. I spent hours on the computer and then at the grocery store reading labels. No joke, my husband would say where have you been? And literally I was at the grocery store for 2+ hours trying to pick out the safest snack option or cereal option and had to ask employees to help me find vegetables and foods I had never hear of, like Swiss Chard, Kale, Jicama (I asked the grocer where the ji-cama was) , quinoa (I pronounced it queen - oh - a). I would leave exhausted and needed a nap after each food shopping experience!

I ditched my Teflon pans and purchased cast iron, I am grateful there was Le Creuset outlet store by my house! AND I COOKED! I nourished my body and I started to take control for my family. Now I would like to say that this process was calm and empowering but IT WAS NOT! I was anxious, worried, controlling about my food and what my children ate. I was powered by FEAR instead of EMPOWERMENT! And here it is:

Grateful for my FRIENDS that were BY MY SIDE THROUGH THE ANXIETY AND THE CALM and EMPOWERMENT AND WATERMELON Summer SMOOTHIES!

Grateful for my FRIENDS that were BY MY SIDE THROUGH THE ANXIETY AND THE CALM and EMPOWERMENT AND WATERMELON Summer SMOOTHIES!

MY WHY: I WISH I HAD ME AND MY KNOWLEDGE AND SKILL SET AFTER I FINISHED CHEMO! I wish I could have had a professional to come to my house or to chat on the phone to tell me how to live greener and healthier!

I wish I had ME to say the process doesn’t have to include fear. To say, “YOU have more power than you realize. This change is going to EMPOWERING! Don’t believe the story that you are powerless.” Don’t believe that “everything causes cancer so you don’t have any power.” Empowerment is STRONG, fears leave us weak. We can shift our story.

I look back at that SCARED, ANXIOUS, WORRIED mom and I wish I could just tell her to embrace the journey because she was on a path of doing better for herself and her children. It DID NOT have to be overnight. SHE COULD have taken it step by step. She could have realized that every step was a step towards feeling better, towards taking some power back, towards alleviating the collateral damage from chemo and surgical menopause.

I wish I had a young mother that went through cancer and understood how to take some control back for health and to help reframe thoughts from “You have to do this” to “You GET to do this!” That simple statement is more powerful than you could believe.

Each step I took towards a nourishing and less toxic life involved hundreds of hours of research (and some panic attacks!) All that time spent can work for you. I want to help you take action to feel better and have more energy, and make less toxic choices in make-up and household products you buy each week. I want you to bring nutrition back to your kitchen to feel better, feel empowered, stronger, and healthier!

Here is a flashback memory: I remember my husband ordered Chinese Food take-out one night a few months after I finished chemo. I ate it and enjoyed it for about an hour and then had the thought that I could never eat that again and I would bring my cancer back. Is this rational, NO! Was this my irrational thought process then? Yes it was. I was fighting what “I couldn’t eat” instead of empowering myself to nourish my body and take back my power, my health. Self care is how I took my power back!

It’s about educated and empowered choices. So if you want to eat Chinese food, or not, or the bacon or not, it is all OK! Education and EMPOWERED CHOICES is what is important. You GET TO focus on what to add, instead of what you take away. Start with adding a few more bites of vegetables, with swapping out your deodorant or your glass cleaner. Small changes matter!

I have learned knowledge is power and empowerment feels WAY Better and Healthier than fear! I choose to limit my risk of recurrence through nourishing my body and reducing my exposure to environmental toxins and to let go of what I can’t control.

Are you in a place where you could use some help? Does any of this resonate with you? Do you want to make changes but just don’t have the time? If so I would love the opportunity to help you with targeted, time and money saving tips to live a greener, healthier and less toxic life! No judgement, no fear, just empowered choices! Let’s set up a time to chat! katerina@ecothriver.com

In health, love and light,

Katerina

Pink Became My Color, A Reflection

This week I celebrate 9 years of Cancer Survivorship and I am filled with gratitude and reflection. It has been 9 years since I heard the words that literally sent me crashing to the floor, “The cells are malignant, you have breast cancer.” 9 years since I was filled with questions like, “Will my children know me? How many years do I have left with Jay? My mom had 4 years, will it be the same for me? Where do I find the strength to get though this? ”

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A sweet moment with Nate after surgery and before chemo started. I thought the worst was behind me, I was wrong.

A sweet moment with Nate after surgery and before chemo started. I thought the worst was behind me, I was wrong.

Breast cancer was not a new word for me. I knew it well. My mother died of metastatic breast cancer when I was 20. I assumed one day I would get breast cancer, I just thought it wouldn’t be at the age of 32. I thought I had more time.

Following my diagnosis I woke up every morning thinking it was a nightmare, then the reality would sink in. Reality of long days of Dr. appointments in New York City, reality of the pain after my bilateral mastectomy and removal of lymph nodes, reality of the sickness from chemo, reality of the anxiety of having triple negative breast cancer that had high recurrence rates. The reality of being a young mom and wife through all of it. Lillian was 4 months old and Nate was 2 1/2 when I was diagnosed, I was overwhelmed and anxious while trying to just welcome each day I had the best I could.

This cancerversary seems to be occupying more mind space than other years. I have such immense gratitude and there is a part of me that wishes I could talk to that scared young woman.

I remember I didn’t want my picture taken and in hindsight I am glad I have some photos of those difficult days. Sometimes I feel like I lost 2 years of my life due to cancer, but when I look through photos I am reminded of the joyful moments and smiles and beauty of life.

The only photo of me bald, spending time on a weekend away, doing one of my favorite things!

The only photo of me bald, spending time on a weekend away, doing one of my favorite things!

Photos also remind me how far I have come, how many bonus days I have had. Facing your mortality at a young age is hard and trying but also has brought many blessings. It is a true dose of perspective whenever I need it. It has made me more compassionate, empathetic, a stronger and more grounded mother and wife, and reminds me of what is important in this beautiful life we all have.

When I thought of what I would tell myself after my breast cancer diagnosis I immediately thought of the photo below. It was the night that I shaved my head. That morning I woke up to clumps falling out and knew I needed to take back some control so out came the buzzer. It was one of the most empowering moments of my life. I asked Nate if he wanted to help me and he was overjoyed to. We were in his bathroom and he was giggling and said, “Mom, you look silly.” I asked him if I could shave his and he said, “No Way!” Ha! We continued to laugh and I looked in the mirror, cue the scene from The Legend of Billie Jean and Pat Benetar…

The night I shaved my head with Nate and baby Lillian had more hair than me

The night I shaved my head with Nate and baby Lillian had more hair than me

“We are strong 
No one can tell us we're wrong 
Searching our hearts for so long 
Both of us knowing…”

What would I tell that scared young mom in the photo smiling through her fears?

Seriously though, why didn’t anyone show me how to “paint” eyebrows on?

Seriously though, why didn’t anyone show me how to “paint” eyebrows on?

First, I would tell her she is going to be o.k. “No matter what happens, you are going to be alright!" The truth is there is no other choice. We can’t choose our circumstances but we can choose our reactions and our next steps.

I GOT TO TURN 40!!!!!! Bring on the birthdays and more candles!!!!

I GOT TO TURN 40!!!!!! Bring on the birthdays and more candles!!!!

I would tell her that her children will know her! “They will know your smile, your crazy kitchen dancing, the love you and Jay have and what is important to you. They will know you like listening to Jack Johnson and your love of the salt air. You will get to annoy them by limiting their sugar and they will challenge you on why our family is so healthy. You will get to visit new places with them and they will have you there for the start of Third Grade and Middle School!”

One year post chemo in OBX.

One year post chemo in OBX.

“Yes, they WILL see you at your worst, but also your best! They will know a mother’s love and your hugs and reassurance.”

“THERE WILL BE DAYS WHEN YOU DON’T THINK ABOUT CANCER! It will take some time, years, but one day you will realize, ‘Wow I didn’t think of cancer today!’ That day you will know another layer of healing has taken place.”

I would tell her that healing isn’t linear. That there are layers upon layers of healing. “One by one they will peel back and you will feel whole again. Like you, only better.”

Healing through a Cancer survivorship camp, Camp Koru in Maui 2012

Healing through a Cancer survivorship camp, Camp Koru in Maui 2012

“You will be grateful for everyone that has been a part of your life journey. Your husband, sisters and friends will be your lifelines. You will learn kindness like you never knew and you will learn how to ask for help and to accept it!”

I would tell her that she will have other health challenges, but she will get through, as she did with cancer, one day at a time.

“You will deal with anxiety, and even some panic attacks, but will fill your toolbox with more tools than you ever though could fit in one! You will even learn to meditate and enjoy it.”

“You will know more joy than you thought possible and you will feel healthier than you ever thought possible.”

“You will learn so much about self care that you would not believe me if I tried to tell you at the moment! You will create a healthy home for your children to reduce their risk of cancer. You will be overwhelmed, but if you just slow down, you will be o.k. Take small steps, the more you force being o.k. the longer it will take to achieve healing. Embrace it instead of fighting it. Give yourself time to heal. The cancer cells are gone, but survivorship is even more challenging in many ways.”

“You will become a cancer and wellness advocate, helping and empowering other young women along the way, as you were helped by other survivors and amazing organizations! Your passion will be helping others choose a healthier way of living.”

My beautiful younger sister Dina during chemotherapy

My beautiful younger sister Dina during chemotherapy

“Your younger sister will be diagnosed with breast cancer a few years after you and you will want to shield her from the path of cancer. Watching her go through it will be harder than you think. You will learn that it is her journey, not yours, and she will be one of the lucky ones too. You will both deal with the collateral damage of cancer, different after effects, but you will both make it years without recurrence.”

“You will lose friends and see other friends deal with a metastatic diagnosis. There will not be a cure soon enough! But in the meantime stay present and continue to find peace in your own journey.”

So here I am at 9 years from that Friday night when I heard my diagnosis and my life was forever changed. I had headed into surgery a short two weeks later and chemo started 4 weeks after that. It is a path I wouldn’t have chosen but it is how Pink became my color. I feel such deep gratitude for the past 9 years, what I refer to as my bonus years.

Wherever this post finds you on your life journey I am sending out peace, love, light and healing!

In health, Katerina

Eliminating Odors the Healthy (and Cheap) Way!

I was inspired to write this blog post in response to community questions. “How do I get the smell out of soccer goalie gloves? cleats? How do I help my parents get rid of the toxic air fresheners they use to cover dog smell? How do I freshen the carpet my son crawls and sits on? How do I freshen the air quickly?”

At my Acupuncturist yesterday I saw the “Real Simple” magazine and I was curious to flip through to read the article, “Secrets to a Good Selling Home.” I wanted to see if they were choosing safe REAL ways to deodorize or if they were going to suggest burning candles. What I read gave me HOPE that the tide has shifted and as a SOCIETY we are ready to embrace natural and healthy instead of advertising and fake scents! Did you know that products like Glade plug ins and Febreeze add chemicals to your air? If you have an odor problem, go to the source! Thank you to Real Simple for your article and for reiterating that, “clean does’t have a scent.”

5 Tips for Eliminating Odors in a Natural and Healthy Way!

  1. Good Ventilation is Key. Open Windows to allow fresh air in. During our hot and humid North Carolina summers this isn’t always possible but any opportunity I get I let fresh air in. We also have an ERV unit.

  2. Baking Soda is cheap and effective at eliminating odors. I use a mason jar with a shaker lid. Sprinkle on carpets and put in laundry. You can even add a few drops of essential oil and shake in the jar.

  3. Stinky soccer and lacrosse gloves - Put (cheap) vodka in a spray bottle. Vodka eliminates odors. It is the alcohol content that does the work. I suggest not diluting for this purpose, although you can try with 1/2 water as well. You can also put in newspapers or a cotton cloth to absorb extra dampness after use.

  4. Air freshener - First open windows when you can. Second spray the air with 1/2 vodka and 1/2 water.

  5. Vinegar also absorbs odors. I use it to soak my clothes when new, in my wash to get out perfumes from scented spaces, to clean my dishwasher, and washing machine.

Kudos to “Real Simple” Magazine for their article, “Secrets to a Great Smelling Home”. The article shared true, cost-effective, and HEALTHY advice also sensitivities to scents and chemicals!

Kudos to “Real Simple” Magazine for their article, “Secrets to a Great Smelling Home”. The article shared true, cost-effective, and HEALTHY advice also sensitivities to scents and chemicals!

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Reusable spray bottles are great, or purchase a glass one!

Reusable spray bottles are great, or purchase a glass one!

5 Simple Cost Effective Ways to 'Clean and Green' Your Kitchen

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Here are 5 ways to clean and green your kitchen space while reducing your ‘kitchen footprint’ on the earth. Many of us spend a lot of time in our kitchens with our families. Cooking, doing homework, eating meals and gatherings with family and friends. Everyone always seems to gather in the kitchen space. These simple steps will help you ‘clean and green’ your kitchen making it a healthier space to be in! It is also friendlier to the earth and your wallet :)

Green Your Kitchen!

  1. Create an all purpose kitchen spray with 1/2 vinegar and 1/2 water. Use with cotton cloths on counters and stove. If you prefer a scented product you can add lemon essential oil or make your own oil infused vinegar. In a glass jar, place orange peels, lemon peels, grapefruit peels and cover with vinegar. Store for 2-3 weeks and add to your bottle! These are my go to glass spray bottles. For a larger bottle you can use a reusable plastic spray bottle purchased at the supermarket or any local home store.

  2. Use less Paper Towels! Americans seem to be obsessed with paper towels. They are expensive and reusable cotton cloths can be used instead. I also have these Skoy Cloths in my kitchen. They absorb spills and I use them for cleaning as well. I like this pack with it’s different colors for different uses.

  3. Add a houseplant or 2! Houseplants brighten spaces and help oxygenate the air. You can go big or small depending on your space. Kitchen windows are also great for small herb plants such as rosemary, thyme, or oregano! Click here for Great Kitchen Herbs.

  4. Go unscented with your garbage bags. You can deodorize with baking soda. JUST SAY NO TO FEBREEZE PRODUCTS! They are toxic in nature. Scented garbage bags just add chemicals into your kitchen that you shouldn’t be breathing in. Compost what you can to reduce your weekly trash!

  5. Go natural with your dishwasher (and dish washing) detergent. Popular store bought brands contain bleach and those chemicals get released into the air and also sit on your dishes and drink ware. I prefer making my own dishwasher detergent due to cost but there are better store bought brands. Ecover unscented has been my store bought go to. Look for an ingredient list! Do not buy household products without ingredients. You can check safe products here at EWG’s Cleaning Guide: https://www.ewg.org/guides/cleaners

Citrus Peels in Vinegar - cheap and effective!

Citrus Peels in Vinegar - cheap and effective!